Category Archives: General

Scouting is Both: Star Trek Analogy


As the Story Goes: Members of the Enterprise’s fact-finding contingent consisting of Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Lt. Sulu, and two members of security beamed down into what appeared to be a remote, forested area of a faraway planet in a newly charted solar system. The first thing they noticed was how frigid it was on the planet’s surface. Already starting to shiver, a security guard proceeded to zap a large rock with his phaser. This, of course would heat the rock to the point it would emit a stream of warming rays that would effectively counteract the cold. Unfortunately, the phaser seemed to be inoperable, as was that of the other security guard’s. To their dismay, for some inexplicable reason, none of their high tech equipment seemed to work on this planet—not their phasers, their tricorders, not even their communicators. What were they to do. How could they avoid freezing to death?

“Mr. Spock!” McCoy exclaimed with alarm in his voice, “What can we do?”

Spock looked around, and then thoughtfully replied, “You might remember, Doctor, at Star Fleet Academy, we were taught how to make something called fire by friction. Well it certainly appears that we’re in a forest that possesses a wealth of likely tools and materials to make, as I recall, what is referred to as a bow and drill.”

The members of the fact-finding contingent proceeded to very quickly gather up all they’d need, fashion a bow and drill, and use it to produce an ember and start a fire. And, because in addition to learning how to operate the latest, high tech devices, they were also taught how to use primitive, outdoor skills, these shivering space travelers were able to get warm, even on a freezing planet without their futuristic gadgets.

Scouting features a wide array of challenges, activities, and avenues of discovery. In such a multifaceted program there are opportunities to learn about subjects as diverse as on one hand: rocketry and robotics and on the other hand: wilderness survival and pioneering. Scouting is both the new and the old, the modern and the traditional, the innovative and the timeless!

Bow and Drill Campcraft How-To Video

Scouting is Both

Scouting’s Traditional Outdoor Skills

Raft Race at Summer Camp

The camp staff placed a supply of materials in an open area by the lake assigned as the designated raft building place. Groups of Scouts could use any of the materials there to create whatever kind of raft they chose. On hand were lengths of precut bamboo, plastic 55 gallon drums, and lengths of old manila rope. There was no set raft building schedule, so Scouts could devote as much of their free time as they wanted. The only definition regarding time factor was that of the race itself, scheduled for Friday at 3:00 p.m.

This raft building venture revealed a consideration that was not so obvious for many who participated, either in an advisory capacity or as a builder — a little something called “center off gravity”. As soon as many of the rafts were launched, this not so obvious consideration quickly reared its head, to the shock and surprise of the riders and to the delight of many observers. As soon as the race began, some of the rafts that looked like they’d do just fine performed a 180º flip over. By lashing on their drums directly under the bamboo, without taking into consideration the need to provide some form of counter balance, many of the Scouts had created a center of gravity that was too high, and this resulted in an unexpected and immediate dunking. All in all, it was a great race! And, after the race, I happened to overhear a wet group of Scouts remark, “That was fun. We gotta do that again!” Experience is the best teacher.

Scout Meeting Activities as Presented in Scouting Magazine

Here are some ideas to put outdoor skills into action at Scout meetings

Outdoor skills aren’t just for the monthly campout. There are plenty of ways your Scouts can hone their outdoor skills on a regular basis, like during unit meetings.

Here is this week’s tip that the BSA’s national camping subcommittee shared with us. Special thanks to Larry Green for the tips and text below. For previous camp hacks and tips from the subcommittee, click here.


Once Scouts can demonstrate an acquired skill, they should be given opportunities to do something fun with it that provides a challenge that illustrates how the skill is used, and an opportunity requiring them to rely upon the skill in order to complete the task.

When properly planned, well-prepared, and effectively presented, these kinds of engaging activities contribute greatly to making a Scout meeting fun with positive outcomes.

Putting skills into action keeps Scouts involved, requires them to use teamwork, and provides the grounds for experiencing success. Bringing skills to life during a troop meeting in a manner that nearly simulates the way they’re used in the field, is always a good way to reinforce what Scouts learn, while honing their skills to keep them sharp.

Here are some fun activities and games your Scouts can do while incorporating skills they’ve learned:

50-Foot Rescue Relay

Hitching Race

Taut-line Hitch Race

Reactor Transporter Challenge

For more team-building activities and skills challenges, click here.

Double A-Frame Monkey Bridge as Presented in Scouting Magazine

Teach your Scouts how to build a monkey bridge

Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell believed every Scout should know how to build bridges. From designing the structure to gathering materials and putting it all together, bridge construction combines technology, teamwork and enthusiasm to complete a span that is memorable and useful.

A bridge on a hiking trail can be as simple as a log across a narrow gap. A more serious one relies on sturdier materials like rope and poles. A rope bridge Baden-Powell described in his 1908 manual, Scouting for Boys, is what today’s Scouts would call a monkey bridge.

Monkeying around

This is a classic pioneering project, and a variety of styles and instructions have been shared many times, from a 1965 Boys’ Life article penned by Scouting leader and author William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt to various editions of the Pioneering merit badge pamphlet.

If Scouts don’t have a stream or small gully to cross, they can build the bridge in a meadow or backyard. Follow safety rules, ensuring the foot rope is no higher than 6 feet off the ground and no longer than 25 feet between A-frames. Using a 50-foot rope, the maximum span between A-frames should be 20 feet, with the extra length being used for anchoring the bridge.

Before building any pioneering structure, it’s necessary to first acquire the wherewithal to experience success. The skills, along with the lashing ropes and poles required to build a monkey bridge using double A-frames for better stability, can be used time and again, for a variety of pioneering projects and troop meeting activities. Here’s how to build a monkey bridge.

Materials

  • Eight 8-foot-by-4-inch A-frame legs
  • Four 6-foot-by-3-inch ledgers
  • 14 15-foot lashing ropes for square lashings (Use 14-inch manila for all lashing ropes.)
  • Six steel rings or locking carabiners to join grommet and rope tackle
  • Two 12-inch-by-10-foot polypropylene ropes for rope grommets
  • Binder twine to create loops for tourniquets
  • Six 10-foot lashing ropes for round lashings
  • Two 12-inch-by-50-foot hand ropes
  • One 12-inch- or 34-inch-by-50-foot foot rope
  • Five to seven 8-foot lashing ropes for stringers
  • 12 24- to 30-inch-by-212-inch pioneering stakes for two 3-2-1 anchors
  • Two pieces of scrap burlap for saddles

1Begin by building four identical A-frames with the 8-foot and 6-foot spars. Make sure the A-frames are all uniform in size when lashed together. Lash them together with three tight square lashings. You could also use shear lashings at the top of the A-frames.

2. Once you have four identical A-frames, it’s time to make two pairs of double A-frames. Stand up two A-frames so they overlap each other one-half their length (about 3  feet). Join the legs together where they intersect with a tight square lashing. Finally, lash the two 6-foot bottom ledgers together where they overlap with three tight round lashings. Do the same for the other double A-frame.

3. Drive the pioneering stakes into the ground first with three stakes together, then two, and then one. Use loops of binder twine and a small stick in between each set to form a tourniquet. Both 3-2-1 anchors should be installed about 10 feet from where the A-frames will be erected. Place a rope grommet around the front stakes, before applying the tourniquet joining the three front stakes to the middle two.

4Position the double A-frames no more than 20 feet apart from each other. Lay the foot and hand ropes alongside the A-frames. Attach the stringer ropes to a hand rope with a clove hitch at 3- to 4-foot intervals along the hand rope. Make roundturns around the foot rope and tie the running ends of the stringer ropes to the other hand rope with a clove hitch.

5. Make two saddles by folding pieces of burlap, placing one above the square lashings in the middle of the double A-frames where they intersect. This is where the foot rope will rest.

6. With the double A-frames held in place on each side, place the foot rope over the saddles, and tie the hand ropes to the top of the A-frames with clove hitches on a bight.

7. About halfway between the anchor and the A-frames, tie a butterfly knot in the foot rope to form a fixed loop for a rope tackle (trucker’s hitch). With Scouts still holding the double A-frames in position, use the rope tackles to put strain on the foot rope. Next, pull the hand ropes tight and attach them to the anchors using rope tackle or roundturns with two half-hitches.

8. Once all the ropes are tightened, check the knots and lashings before crossing the bridge. Allow only one person on the bridge at a time.

Bridging the gap

Scouts can celebrate their bridge’s completion by crossing it and reflecting on how the project came together. What went well? What would they do differently next time? What roles did teamwork and leader-ship play in the project?

After it has served its purpose, the bridge can be dismantled: The ropes can be coiled and stored with the poles in a dry place, ready to bring out for the next pioneering project.

Helping Scouts realize they have the power to plan and construct big projects is a practical way to bridge the gap between the promise of Scouting adventure and fulfilling that promise in the field.


Robert Birkby is author of three editions of The Boy Scout Handbook, two editions of the BSA’s Fieldbook and the newest edition of the Conservation Handbook. Find him at robertbirkby.com

Special thanks to Larry Green

Scout Skill Activities as presented in Bryan on Scouting

Here are some ideas to put outdoor skills into action at Scout meetings

Outdoor skills aren’t just for the monthly campout. There are plenty of ways your Scouts can hone their outdoor skills on a regular basis, like during unit meetings.

Here is this week’s tip that the BSA’s national camping subcommittee shared with us. Special thanks to Larry Green for the tips and text below. For previous camp hacks and tips from the subcommittee, click here.


Once Scouts can demonstrate an acquired skill, they should be given opportunities to do something fun with it that provides a challenge that illustrates how the skill is used, and an opportunity requiring them to rely upon the skill in order to complete the task.

When properly planned, well-prepared, and effectively presented, these kinds of engaging activities contribute greatly to making a Scout meeting fun with positive outcomes.

Putting skills into action keeps Scouts involved, requires them to use teamwork, and provides the grounds for experiencing success. Bringing skills to life during a troop meeting in a manner that nearly simulates the way they’re used in the field, is always a good way to reinforce what Scouts learn, while honing their skills to keep them sharp.

Here are some fun activities and games your Scouts can do while incorporating skills they’ve learned:

50-Foot Rescue Relay

Hitching Race

Taut-line Hitch Race

Reactor Transporter Challenge

For more team-building activities and skills challenges, click here.

Setting up a simple dining fly as presented in Bryan on Scouting

Here’s a simple way of setting up a dining fly in an open field

A dining fly is one of the first structures you should put up at camp. But what if you’re in an area away from trees, how do you secure one?

For the next couple of weeks, we’ll be sharing some camp hacks that the BSA’s national camping subcommittee has shared with us. This week’s tip involves how to set up a dining fly. Special thanks to Larry Green for the tips and text below.


In the Camping merit badge pamphlet, under the “Managing Your Campsite” section, it reads, “Set up a dining fly first. That will provide shelter for food and you in case of rain, and will give a sense of where you will center most of your camp activities.”

It’s a regular practice that the dining fly is the first thing to go up and the last thing to come down. Here’s one simple way for a patrol to set up their fly when there are no trees for the ridge line.

  1. Layout the tarp and attach a guyline to each corner with two half-hitches or a bowline.
  2. Pound in stakes five feet away and at a 45-degree angle from each corner of the tarp.
  3. Apply a taut-line hitch between the stakes and the tarp’s corner grommets.
  4. On each side, join two Scout staves together with two round lashings for the upright poles.
  5. Secure a ridge line to the upright poles with a series of half hitches.
  6. With the ends of the ridge line attached to their stakes, the tarp is raised and tension on the guylines is adjusted.

Watch these videos for techniques and tips below.

 

Clove Hitch as presented in Bryan on Scouting

Here’s a tip to help your Scouts remember how to tie a clove hitch

Did you know a clove hitch is essentially two simple knots? When your Scout is tying lashings, all they need to know to create a clove hitch is how to tie a half-hitch.

For the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some camp hacks that the BSA’s national camping subcommittee has shared with us. This week, we’re showing you how to tie a clove hitch, which is used to begin and end many lashings. Special thanks to Larry Green for the tips and text below.


John Thurman, the Camp Chief at Gilwell Park in England for more than 25 years, wrote, “The first and everlasting thing to remember about the clove hitch is that it is composed of two half-hitches.”

  1. If you make one half-hitch…
  2. and then an identical half-hitch…
  3. and bring them together, you form a clove hitch.
  4. The identical half-hitches can be formed in any direction. This is a good thing, because many lashings need to be finished from either one direction or the other.
  5. First half-hitch (finishing a shear lashing).
  6. Second half-hitch.
  7. Both half-hitches are brought together.

When a clove hitch is formed in this manner, snugging it right against the wraps to finish a lashing is easy.

Watch the video of this technique below.

Square Lashing as presented in Bryan on Scouting

As presented in Bryan on Scouting:

Always tie a square knot correctly with this tip

Tying a square knot might be confusing for Scouts. “Right-over-left” or was it “left-over-right?”

For the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some camp hacks that the BSA’s national camping subcommittee has shared with us. This week’s tip involves a technique to tying a square knot correctly every time. Special thanks to Larry Green for the tips and text below.


The square knot, also known as the reef knot, is first and foremost a binding knot. Its primary function is to secure a line tightly up against an object as when tying a bandage, a package or the flaps of a wall tent at camp.

When it’s time to tie a square knot, there’s a surefire way to always tie it right, and all you need to do is use your eyes.

  1. Tie the first half-knot.
  2. Position the ends so the blue end projects down on one side, and the red end extends up on the other side. It’s as if each end has its own area — like each is in their own “zone.” That’s where they need to stay.
  3. When the ends are brought together to form the second half-knot, they don’t enter the other “zone” by crossing behind the other end. They just meet in the middle. The knot is finished by carrying either end over and around the other.
  4. It makes no difference how the first half-knot is tied (over-under or under-over, right-over-left or left-over-right).
  5. When bringing the ends together to form the second half-knot, keep them in their own “zones.” Don’t cross over into the other end’s area.
  6. This way, you’ll always tie a square knot, and never a granny knot.

Tying a square knot from this visual perspective comes in handy, because often Scouts will lose track of whether they went over-under or under-over, or right-over-left or left-over-right. Once they get the knack of seeing how each end stays in its own “zone,” this approach is fool-proof.

Watch the video of this technique below.

Half Knot (West Country) Whipping as presented in Bryan on Scouting

As presented in Bryan on Scouting:

Try this easy technique next time you need to whip a rope

Whipping a rope can be a little tricky. If your Scout is struggling with the traditional method, you can teach them another way, called “West Country whipping.”

For the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some camp hacks that the BSA’s national camping subcommittee has shared with us. This week’s tip involves an easier way to whip a rope. Special thanks to Larry Green for the tips and text below.


Preventing the ends of rope from fraying is a process referred to as “whipping.” Learning how to whip the ends of a rope is one of the early requirements on the Scouts BSA advancement trail.

Indeed, there are many approaches to whipping a rope, but the one that’s used for the hundreds of lashing ropes in the pioneering area at national jamborees, as well as the 2019 World Scout Jamboree, is known as the West Country Whipping. What’s so special about this whipping? The answer is simple. It’s easy to teach and easy to tie, and most importantly, it’s easy to make tight. Hence, Scouts learn it more quickly and like it much better.

    1. Start by tying a half-knot, the way you would start a square knot, near the rope’s end.
    2. Continue by carrying the two ends of the whipping cord around the back of the rope, away from you, and tie another half-knot identical to the first.
    3. Keep repeating the half-knots, front and back, pulling each one tight.
    4. Form each half-knot the same way, either right over left, or left over right, so they interlock neatly together, and snug against the previous half-knot.
    5. Continue the process until the whipping is as wide as the rope’s diameter.
    6. Finish off with a tight square knot.
    7. Finally, the excess cord is trimmed.

Watch the video of this technique below.

Check out an easier way to whip a rope that holds much better!

Preventing the ends of rope from fraying is a process referred to as “whipping.” Learning how to whip the ends of a rope is one of the early requirements on the Scouts BSA advancement trail.

Indeed there are many approaches to whipping a rope, but the one that’s used for the hundreds of lashing ropes in the pioneering area at national jamborees, as well as the 2019 World Jamboree, is known as the West Country Whipping. What’s so special about this whipping? The answer is simple. It’s easy to teach and easy to tie, and most importantly, it’s easy to make tight! Hence, Scouts learn it more quickly and like it much better.

1. Start by tying a half knot, the way you would start a square knot, near the rope’s end.

2. Continue by carrying the two ends of the whipping cord around the back of the rope, away from you, and tie another half knot identical to the first.

3. Keep repeating the half knots, front and back, pulling each one tight.

4. Form each half knot the same way, either right over left, or left over right, so they interlock neatly together, and snug against the previous half knot.

5. Continue the process until the whipping is as wide as the rope’s diameter.

6. Finish off with a tight square knot.

7. Finally, the excess cord is trimmed. VIEW THE HOW-TO VIDEO

—> Sailmaker’s Whipping (stays put even under hard use)

Delivering the Goods

Of course you’ve gotta love this (and all) Norman Rockwell paintings, but this one is always timely, and perhaps now more than ever. The kind of Scouting adventure that younger Scouts can look forward to needs to be evidenced by the troops they observe. And then of course, that “Promise of Scouting” NEEDS to be delivered!

Membership in what used to be called the Boy Scouting division is down, and has been diminishing for many years. With the advent of girls joining what is now referred to as Scouts BSA, there’s still a VERY IMPORTANT principle that should never be (and should never have been) neglected. That is: troops should actively engage in, and on a regular basis demonstrate in the public eye, timeless, traditional outdoor skills.

Just like for the Cub Scout depicted in the painting, it’s these traditional outdoor adventures that embody the promise of Scouting, and experiencing them require the acquisition of the basic, and always relevant skills. Obviously, when the youngster in the painting is old enough to join those older guys, he’s going to have numerous experiences that give rise to rich Scouting memories. And, he won’t drop out. Why would he? Look at the size of those actively involved individuals clad in khaki! And, look how they’re actively involved in an experience laced with challenges and fun!

The Diamond Hitch

The Diamond Hitch was many times more prevalent a couple of decades past, and was featured throughout a range of Scout publications. It’s not actually associated with Scout Pioneering, but it’s still an example of nifty rope work. Though there’s not nearly as many packboards in use today, the Diamond Hitch still can serve as the most practical approach to securing a bundle to an object, even in today’s modern world of bungee cords and the like. The following diagram and description was scanned from the ’76 printing of the 1967 Fieldbook.

What Pioneering Merit Badge SHOULD Be!

“Pioneering is practical and character building: the two essential ingredients of any program material for Scouts.” (Lord Baden-Powell)

Mew Top Montage

Pioneering Merit Badge, which as we all know used to be required for Eagle, should give Scouts a taste of pioneering! Of course they should be taught about safety and gain some general knowledge, but much more importantly, they should be introduced to the Scouting traditions and the fun that this activity embodies. They should DO pioneering!

SIngle Trestle Montage

Taking part in building pioneering projects contributes to the development of self-esteem and provides a sense of accomplishment. It necessitates working hard and working together towards a common goal. Besides being really cool and impressing people in and out of Scouting, building a real pioneering structure requires the mastery of a set of useful Scout skills that can be applied over a lifetime of outdoor activities—activities for both work and recreation.

A-Frame Bridge 5

Pioneering Merit Badge should be presented as a series of planned challenges and opportunities leading up to memorable experiences that are rewarding and unique. The recipients of this merit badge should be inspired to share their acquired skills and the fun they had with other Scouts in their unit.

Bridge Building

As Gilwell Park Camp Chief, John Thurmann  stated, “To me, the over-riding reason for presenting Pioneering is that boys like it. There are few activities which, properly presented, have a greater appeal to the Scout than Pioneering and ever since the introduction of Wood Badge training, Pioneering has been given a full share in the program of Scouters’ training. In the summer months when Scouters at Gilwell are building bridges, towers, and rafts, and boys are in camp, it has been all too common to hear from the boys such remarks as, ‘I wish we did that in our Troop’ or ‘We never do anything like that’.”

Tower Montage

But there are reasons for Pioneering other than the fact that Scouts like doing it. B.-P. wrote: “I am inclined to suggest to Scouters that in addition to the technical details of knotting, lashing, and anchorages, there is an educative value in Pioneering since it gives elementary training in stresses, mensuration, etc., and it also develops initiative and resourcefulness to use local material. Additionally, it gives practice in team work and discipline.” In other words, (“Pioneering is practical and character building: the two essential ingredients of any program material for Scouts.”)

CHippewa Montage